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Importers, agents incur N200 billion demurrage over recurring server failure

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• Group threatens to file lawsuit, insists FG sacks internet service provider over incompetence
• Customs yet to ascertain cause of the server disruptions, restore normalcy

Port operators have bemoaned the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) for the recurring server failure in its operations at the ports, which has caused importers and freight forwarders to pay over N200 billion in demurrages to terminal operators and shipping lines in the past two weeks.

National President, Africa Association of Professional Freight Forwarders and Logistics in Nigeria (APFFLON), Otunba Frank Ogunojemite, told The Guardian that the recurring server failure in Customs operations has grossly hindered freight forwarders and importers from taking delivery of their consignments in good time, even as shipping and terminal charges accrue.

He said for over two weeks the server has been experiencing downtime, importers and their agents have paid over N200 billion on demurrage to shipping lines and terminals.

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“Looking at the number of vessels that arrive and multiplying it by the number of containers in the vessels, which is about 2,000, you discover that we have paid over N200 billion in just two weeks of the server malfunction,” he lamented.

Ogunojemite said the money paid to the shipping lines and terminals, who he said are mostly foreigners, results in capital flight.

He added that the server failure has also grossly affected the revenue drive of various Customs commands, leaving marks of frustration on the faces of Customs Area Controllers who unfortunately, have no immediate solution to the challenge.

Spokesperson of Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN), Dr. Bolaji Akinola, said everyone is suffering from the perennial downtime of Customs server, adding that poor server connectivity, lack of scanners and overly manual processes make the Nigeria Customs Service the greatest hindrance to trade facilitation in the country and the sole barrier to the ease of doing business at the ports.

Akinola said it was unfortunate that the NCS management is not making sufficient investment in modern information technology to drive its operations, noting that it was high time Customs upgraded its servers and other platforms.

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“The poor server connectivity at the various Customs commands has persisted for too long. Customs must now invest heavily on new and modern technology systems to drive its operations, rather than the present over-reliance on manual processes, as this would also help the service to also generate much more revenue,” he said.

President, Shippers Association of Lagos (SAL), Jonathan Nicol, said while the Nigeria Customs Service has one of the sophisticated IT systems in the country and the power block playing the scripts of now allowing the Single Window to be established, the Assycuda ++ success or collapse rests on the Customs.

Nicol said the trading public are losing to the system malfunction, noting that in the early days where there was a system breach, shippers and importers were given free days exemptions in payment of storage and demurrages.

“If for instance the breakdown is from the Customs, the Customs will write to the terminal operators and shipping lines to waive demurrages and storage charges for the period of breakdown. Rules were respected, but it is not happening now after the so-called Port Concession Agreement of 2006,” he bemoaned.

Meanwhile, APFFLON has concluded to file a lawsuit against the Nigeria Customs Service on behalf of freight forwarders to ensure that they recover revenue they lost due to the server failure within the period.

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The advocacy group in aviation and maritime, in a statement made available to The Guardian, advised those having delivery challenges occasioned by the server failure, to state how long it took them to capture their Single Goods Declaration (SGD); additional storage charge incurred; as well as other difficulties associated with it.

The group assured them that their right to litigation can be fully exercised if they would join APFFLON to seek redress, promising to recover in full, every additional cost associated with the challenge, provided the agent tenders the documents.

The association further called on the Federal Government to immediately sack the Nigeria Customs internet service providers, Messrs. Webb Fountain, for gross incompetence, which it said, has grossly jeopardised its policy on Ease of Doing Business, as well as hindered trade facilitation.

Meanwhile, the Deputy National Public Relations Officer, NCS, Timi Bomodi told The Guardian: “ We have not been able to ascertain the cause of the disruptions in our servers. As you know the IT architecture, which drives Customs operations is managed by Webb Fontaine. As we speak they have not issued any statement to address this issue. However, over the weekend, all hands were on deck to ensure normalcy was quickly restored to our system. More detailed information on this issue will be provided later.”

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